A bridge between the city's past and its future Walking: A new concrete span has replaced the rickety old Hamburg Street Bridge, helping an area regain its lost vigor.

September 19, 1998|By Jacques Kelly

ON THE SUNDAY of the Ravens' first-ever regular-season home game at their new stadium, I arrived at the park -- ticketless. I hadn't come to see the game. I was just curious. I wanted to see for myself how this large and expensive new sports arena functioned in the context of downtown. Did the same pre-game excitement fill the air as it did on the fall football Sundays around the old Memorial Stadium and Waverly neighborhoods?

Standing under a hot September sky on the light rail platform, I looked out across the very new Baltimore that's been created here in the last decade. I couldn't take my eyes off the scores of people walking over the Hamburg Street Bridge (the span is elevated over railroad tracks and traffic arteries) as they headed for the kickoff.

As a city walker, I take delight in any fellow travelers who employ shoe leather. I got the impression that the people I saw had not just parked before dashing to their seats. Maybe they'd begun the day around the harbor or in Federal Hill, making good use of a city that has spent billions rebuilding itself in recent history.

My thoughts turned to the old Hamburg Street Bridge, an iron relic of the Industrial Revolution. Many times I hiked over it with my grandmother, Mary Louise Bosse Kelly, who lived a block south of Hamburg on a little street named Poultney.

She loved to poke through the bargain bins of a now demolished Salvation Army thrift store at Hamburg and Fremont Avenue. I was ever searching for old shellac phonograph records. She never drove a car, so walked everywhere. I think the exercise kept her going long after most people her age surrendered to atrophy.

Over the years, as I began to drive, I learned where the Hamburg Street Bridge was and how you could use it as a traffic shortcut out of the city.

I think back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when this part of Baltimore was a moribund industrial backwater. Camden Station had only a few commuter trains, which it still retains. But the

surrounding buildings seemed empty, or very underused. The neighborhood was no longer busy. It seemed to have little commercial purpose, so different from the days when the factories here hummed and lunch-box-toting workers streamed

in and out of the old brick buildings.

The old bridge itself clearly needed replacement. I wonder how many cars fractured their axles on its rutted and battered surface. I recall one day taking a lunchtime walk across the bridge, looking at its Erector Set-like structural parts and the black iron posts. Then the No. 30 transit rattled by and I wondered just what kept this rickety rust bucket standing.

In fact, the bridge didn't last. It was condemned and torn down, replaced by the current structure I observed a couple of Sundays ago. I think more people walked across the new bridge that day than crossed the old one in a whole decade during the 1960s and 1970s.

Here is yet another part of our aged downtown that has been reworked and reinterpreted for a new life. The iron Hamburg Street Bridge is gone, replaced by a concrete version. And it is being used to get people over a railroad line that sees more use than it did 30 years ago.

Lest anyone think that all of downtown Baltimore has been remade entirely, just watch the trains. The Camden Yards area remains busy with mainline railroading. As I stood on the light rail platform, a couple of freight trains roared past on an adjacent rail line. One came from the CSX rail branch that snakes around the contours of South Baltimore's geography. This string of box and tank cars and gondolas made up at the Locust Point yards curved around toward the new stadium. Minutes later, another freight roared through, this one moving northward from the general direction of Washington.

Each train disappeared into the blackness of the Howard Street Tunnel, a freight artery that is one of the unseen engineering landmarks of Baltimore.

Then the trains' rumble was lost in the roar of the opening kickoff. I thought about old Memorial Stadium and the cozy way it had fit into the rowhouse neighborhoods of Waverly and Ednor Gardens. And as as the last stragglers stepped from the light rail trains or hurried across the Hamburg Street Bridge, I realized that whatever you might feel about the new stadium's finances, the planners got it right.

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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